Wednesday, December 08, 2004

King/Drew Medical Center Woes

Really, really good pieces in the L.A. Times about the drama at the King/Drew Medical Center:

Part 1: Deadly errors and politics betray a hospital's promise
Part 2: Underfunding Is a Myth, but the Squandering Is Real
Part 3: One doctor's long trail of dangerous mistakes
Part 4: How Whole Departments Fail A Hospital's Patients
Part 5: Why Supervisors Let Deadly Problems Slide

These will all probably disappear behind the veil of registration shortly, but while they're up they make for fascinating -- and frightening -- reading.

It's tempting to interpret these stories into something else, like the problem of health care in America writ large; or the intransigence of an institution that has been allowed to creep into deadly habits, concerned more about self-preservation than doing the job it's been charged with doing; or even into a parallel with the Iraq War, wondering if it's possible to fix something that is impossibly corrupted but vitally important at the same time. That's probably not a safe thing to do. Every story has analogies, but sometimes it's necessary to focus on the crisis at hand.

What's especially fascinating, and only barely touched upon in the first piece, is how the community -- "The Community" -- is in a real bind. If they complain about the quality of care, the most likely action by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors would be to close the whole thing down, but by faithfully standing by it they help to perpetuate a system that doesn't do them any real service.

Also, I'm sure many people are reading these pieces and saying, "This just proves the incompetence of governmnet-run medical programs. Privatize it! Let a health care company run it and the market will force it to become better!" Except that there's no reason why a private hospital couldn't set up shop and compete...but that they don't want to. A corporation's duty is not to its customers -- or in this case its patients -- but to its shareholders, and there's not a lot of money to be made in servicing the community that King/Drew services. The Board of Supervisors, duly elected and accountable to the citizenry, must provide a service. That's not the case for any large health care corporation, who can declare, "There's a market, but no money. No profit means that we close up and move somewhere that has money, regardless of whether or not we're needed."

[Edited 12/9/2004: Added link to Part 5 of the series.]

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